Saturday, December 31, 2016

2016 in review

Well, here we are, at the end of 2016!

Last year I made my first infographic that catalogued some interesting reading stats. I made a new one this year, to look at some of the same things and compare them to how I did last year.

Here it is!

Some interesting facts:
  • I started and ended this year with Sanderson books, so obviously my year in books was off to a great start and end (Shadows of Self and Arcanum Unbounded, in case you were wondering). I think I have one or two more short stories/novellas to go before I've read everything published in the Cosmere :D
  • I read more paperback and hardcover books this year because I went to the actual library instead of just conveniently checking out ebooks on my kindle. 
  • Listened to more audiobooks than ever because I listen to them at work, about 1 a week
  • My average rating last year was 3.905 and this year's was 3.904, and no one star books in either year. Looks like I have a pretty solid idea of which books I'll like before I start reading :)
  • I read about 1,000 less pages and 5 less books than last year, but I read more big books this year (500+ pages)
  • I finished my AZ challenge! I'll do a post on that at the beginning of January
  • I did not end up doing my monthly DiverSFFy posts, and I was only marginally better about being consistent about posting things. But hey, I did do better and next year will be better still! (says the girl planning to start her PhD in the fall...fingers crossed)

Here's to 2017, a bigger and better year for books and everything else in our lives!

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Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Book Talk: Books for Comforting

Last week was really rough for me. My grandpa passed away. I was really close to him and I was so upset, so that's why the blog has been quiet for the past week. It has been tough, but my friends and family have reached out to me and I've felt very loved and supported, which is so wonderful and comforting during your unhappiest times.

That got me thinking about how books can also be a source of comfort. There have been times in the past few years where I was inexplicably upset, lonely, insecure, or all of the above. Sometimes I was too embarrassed to talk to my friends about how I was feeling, and sometimes I didn't even really know how to talk about it. I found a lot of comfort in books, because sometimes when you read about a character that is struggling with some of the same things you are, you feel less alone and less ashamed of how you feel. 

I used to read books because of the clever plot twists or because of the magical sci-fi and fantasy worlds, but now I've started reading because of the characters. I love reading about incredible friendships and seeing how characters grow and overcome their own personal struggles. Some of my favorite books and authors are ones that wrote characters that I identified with or got really attached to: Melina Marchetta, Patrick Ness, Brandon Sanderson, Scott Lynch.

I didn't read that many books this past week, but now that the waves of grief have started to slow down, I'm getting back in the mood for other worlds and other stories. Here's to the books that get you through the tough times in your life!

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Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Happy Thanksgiving!

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, here's a list of bookish things that I am thankful for!

1. More books to read than I could ever ask for

Image result for so many books so little time

I know this is usually a bookish problem but it's one I'm very glad to have: I'm so thankful that there are so many amazing books out there in the world just waiting to be discovered, and that I have access to libraries and friends who lend me books and bookstores.

2. The book blogger community

Image result for book blogs

It's so awesome finding a space in this loving and generous community! What I love most is that I have made a lot of friends just by talking about books we love. It's really awesome to have people to talk to when new books come out, because most of my college friends don't read as quickly or as much as I do.

3. The #otspsecretsister project

Image result for otsp secret sister
This penpal project is just so wonderful! It's gotten me through some really lonely/stressful/tough times and it's so awesome getting to know other bookish people and spreading the love and cheer :)

4. The fact that I don't live in a YA dystopian world

Image result for YA dystopia
From the Giver to The Hunger Games to Legend to Divergent...the list goes on and on, and I'm so thankful that our world hasn't degenerated to any of the bleak scenarios we've all read about. Although with recent events maybe this won't be the case for much longer? o.O

5. The never-ending supply of Brandon Sanderson books

Image result for arcanum unbounded

My two favorite authors are Brandon Sanderson and Scott Lynch. Scott Lynch tortures me by getting my hopes up about the next Gentleman Bastards book coming out and then having the release date pushed back over and over (I'm not bitter about Thorn of Emberlain not being published yet, nooooooope), but Sanderson surprises me by giving me more books a year than I expected or hoped for! I'm extraordinarily thankful that he writes so many books and that I can count on a steady stream of them for the next...couple of decades...

6. Spontaneous reads that end up being really good

It's always an amazing feeling when you grab a random book off a shelf, or pick up a book that you're skeptical about, and it turns out to be amazing. I've been pleasantly surprised many times, and it's the greatest feeling because you weren't expecting much but you suddenly have a reason to smile! 

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Sunday, November 20, 2016

Bookish Eats: A Torch Against the Night Sweet potato patties

I just finished reading A Torch Against the Night by Sabaa Tahir, and I liked it so much more than the first book. I figured out my main problem with it: I can't stand Laia. At all. But this book featured Helene more heavily, and she's definitely my favorite character of the series. The thing that I love about Helene is that even when you take away the people she cares about and crush her soul, she somehow pieces herself back together again and comes back stronger than ever, better than before.

Image result for sabaa tahir torch against the night

Following the theme of crushing and remaking, I decided to make some Black bean and Sweet potato veggie patties. I actually didn't have black beans so I ended up subbing kidney beans, but it was still really good! Here's the link to the recipe: Sweet Potato and Black Bean Burger by The Minimalist Baker

So I begin by smashing and crushing my ingredients, which was very satisfying after a stressful day at work...I think I can see why Marcus enjoys it so much (just kidding!! Marcus is terrible):

And then I "remade" them into patties and stuck them in the oven...

and promptly devoured them for lunch. These things are so good, I'm definitely making them again :D

I was honestly on the fence about this series after book one and the blatant rape culture, but book 2 really turned things around. Helene is my queen and I will keep reading just for her!

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Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Review: The Rose and the Dagger

23308084Title: The Rose & the Dagger
Author: Renee Ahdieh
Genre: Historical fiction, fantasy

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Goodreads Summary:
The darker the sky, the brighter the stars.
In a land on the brink of war, Shahrzad is forced from the arms of her beloved husband, the Caliph of Khorasan. She once thought Khalid a monster—a merciless killer of wives, responsible for immeasurable heartache and pain—but as she unraveled his secrets, she found instead an extraordinary man and a love she could not deny. Still, a curse threatens to keep Shazi and Khalid apart forever.
Now she’s reunited with her family, who have found refuge in the desert, where a deadly force is gathering against Khalid—a force set on destroying his empire and commanded by Shazi’s spurned childhood sweetheart. Trapped between loyalties to those she loves, the only thing Shazi can do is act. Using the burgeoning magic within her as a guide, she strikes out on her own to end both this terrible curse and the brewing war once and for all. But to do it, she must evade enemies of her own to stay alive.
The saga that began with The Wrath and the Dawn takes its final turn as Shahrzad risks everything to find her way back to her one true love again.

I liked book 1 better, but I have to say I adored the epilogue :) I know I'm in the minority; most people I know liked book 2 a lot better. There were definitely some things that were better in this book than book 1. For one thing, the romance is far more well-developed and it doesn't feel as rushed/awkward because the relationship has already been established. Magic is also way more prominent in this book and directly affects the characters instead of being a sort of background element of the world.

Still, this book was missing one of my favorite things about the first book: the friendships. I loved Shazi and Despina's banter, and Jalal and Khalid's relationship. This book hardly featured those friendships, and I felt like some characters changed in ways that weren't organic to their original characterization at all. Even though I missed seeing some of the old characters, there were still a lot of awesome new characters to root for. I really liked getting to know Shazi's little sister Irsa, and her quiet resilience and strength as she finds her voice. I also loved fireball dude, whose name I'm blanking out on...oops.

The plot in this book is really fast paced compared to the first one. There are crazy high stakes with war looming and betrayals and political machinations galore. I loved all of that, but in terms of the magic I felt like the resolution was anti-climactic. I also was really unhappy about one of the twists but it worked out okay in the end, thankfully.

I'm definitely looking forward to more of Renee Ahdieh's lush, gorgeous prose. Even if there won't be any more installments in this series, I'm sure whatever she writes next will be just as magical!

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Tuesday, November 15, 2016

TTT: Top Ten Sci-fi movies

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Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

This week's theme: Top Ten Sci-fi Movies

In honor of Sci-fi month in November, here are some of my favorite science fiction movies! I'm realizing as I write this post that I have seen way more sci-fi TV shows than movies...

 Image result for Inception

One of my favorite sci-fi movies, plus the added bonus of having a spectacular soundtrack! This movie never ceases to bend my mind every time I watch it.
 Image result for Minority Report

This movie was so good! I was blown away by the world building and the mystery and I got really emotional towards the end, which is rare for me with movies.
 Image result for E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial

ET was one of my favorite movies as a kid, I just loved the idea of discovering an alien in my closet (even if he was kind of wrinkly and creepy looking).
 Image result for Gattaca

Like most of my friends, I saw this movie in 9th grade Biology when we were talking about genetic engineering and the ethical implications. This movie is so sad but really thought-provoking and inspiring too.
 Image result for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

I watched this movie when I was home alone, which was a terrible idea because I just sobbed that night. It was really good though!
Image result for Avatar

Yeah, there are some white-savior-complex problems with this movie, but you can't deny it's a visual masterpiece and just filled with really cool worlds/technology.
Image result for Interstellar

I finally saw this movie last month, and it was absolutely gorgeous. I wasn't a huge fan of the weird bookshelf thing/non-answer about one of the main questions driving the plot but I did like the movie overall. I love how it focused on a father-daughter relationship, even if the whole "love transcends all" trope is a little overdone.
Image result for Gravity (film)

I've never seen such a stressful movie! My heart was literally pounding for half the movie, and I love how it contrasted the serene beauty of the planet earth with the life-or-death situation happening in space.
Image result for star wars 7
What's a sci-fi movie list without Star Wars? The latest installment is my favorite so far, because it taps into the nostalgia of the old movies but makes them way more relevant to my generation :) Rey is such a badass, and I loved Finn too! And of course, BB-8!!!
Image result for The Avengers

I love Marvel movies, and the Avengers was so much fun because I didn't even know that it was possible for movies to all tie in to a larger storyline until I saw this one. It was so funny and just plain fun to watch :)

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Monday, November 14, 2016

Review: The Night Circus

9361589Title: The Night Circus
Author: Erin Morgenstern
Genre: Magical realism, fantasy, historical fiction

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Goodreads Summary:The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it, no paper notices plastered on lampposts and billboards. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not.
Within these nocturnal black-and-white striped tents awaits an utterly unique, a feast for the senses, where one can get lost in a maze of clouds, meander through a lush garden made of ice, stare in wonderment as the tattooed contortionist folds herself into a small glass box, and become deliciously tipsy from the scents of caramel and cinnamon that waft through the air.
Welcome to Le Cirque des RĂªves.
Beyond the smoke and mirrors, however, a fierce competition is under way--a contest between two young illusionists, Celia and Marco, who have been trained since childhood to compete in a "game" to which they have been irrevocably bound by their mercurial masters. Unbeknownst to the players, this is a game in which only one can be left standing, and the circus is but the stage for a remarkable battle of imagination and will.
As the circus travels around the world, the feats of magic gain fantastical new heights with every stop. The game is well under way and the lives of all those involved--the eccentric circus owner, the elusive contortionist, the mystical fortune-teller, and a pair of red-headed twins born backstage among them--are swept up in a wake of spells and charms.
But when Celia discovers that Marco is her adversary, they begin to think of the game not as a competition but as a wonderful collaboration. With no knowledge of how the game must end, they innocently tumble headfirst into love. A deep, passionate, and magical love that makes the lights flicker and the room grow warm whenever they so much as brush hands.
Their masters still pull the strings, however, and this unforeseen occurrence forces them to intervene with dangerous consequences, leaving the lives of everyone from the performers to the patrons hanging in the balance.
Both playful and seductive, The Night Circus, Erin Morgenstern's spell-casting debut, is a mesmerizing love story for the ages.

Utterly gorgeous, weaving dark and light effortlessly into a mesmerizing story of magic, pain, and love. I have never read such a beautiful book! I wasn't expecting much, I'm not a big fan of books that focus on romance. I'd heard a lot of good things about this book so I decided to give it a shot. I'm so glad I did, this book was just so beautiful!

This story covers a lot of ground, weaving in the past and present from different perspectives all over the world. This book is primarily about the magical circus, and it's so interesting to see how it means different things to different characters. I always like books that have multiple POVs/timelines, so it was awesome that this book incorporated both! I also really liked having so many characters and interesting relationships because I was expecting the book to only focus on the love story between two people.

I can't talk about how much I loved this book without talking about the descriptions of food. I love cooking and baking and of course, eating, so my mouth was watering as I read about the magical food and pastries. I only wish I could taste some of it!

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Wednesday, November 9, 2016

First generation American, terrified

I almost never write anything on my blog that doesn't somehow relate to books, but this election is just too important and momentous to ignore.

I am terrified.

I am sitting in my living room, refreshing the page on the election results every few minutes. I can hardly breathe from how anxious I am, because who knows what tomorrow may bring?

Tomorrow I might not be welcome in America. A child of immigrants, a person of color. A woman who isn't afraid to speak her mind.

No matter how this election plays out, I am shocked, disappointed, and ashamed that this race was a close one. I simply cannot believe that the people of America would want to support a man who has made no secret of his prejudices, lies, and bigotry. I believed that people had more sense, and the common decency and compassion to look out for their less fortunate friends and neighbors. Now that has been shattered, I know that most of our country has no problem making themselves feel powerful by crushing the backs of those that aren't like them.

I am ashamed of being a part of a country where anyone who is different is fodder for insult and a target for hatred. I knew our world was divided between those with privilege and power and those without it, but I never realized just how much power the privileged few wield over the rest.

With just over an hour to go before the final results are in, I'm going to cross my fingers and pray for a miracle. But no matter how this election ends, I don't think my faith in America or my faith in humanity will ever be fully restored.

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Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Review: The Fifth Season

19161852Title: The Fifth Season
Author: N.K. Jemisin

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A season of endings has begun.
It starts with the great red rift across the heart of the world's sole continent, spewing ash that blots out the sun.
It starts with death, with a murdered son and a missing daughter.
It starts with betrayal, and long dormant wounds rising up to fester.
This is the Stillness, a land long familiar with catastrophe, where the power of the earth is wielded as a weapon. And where there is no mercy.

I loved this book, even if it shattered my heart multiple times. Wow.

This book is such a great example of why I am making an effort to read more diverse fantasy and science fiction (both in terms of authors and characters/worlds). There's something just so beautiful about reading and experiencing the world through a voice or a perspective different from the one you usually see. This book follows three women in different points of their lives trying to survive in a very brutal world, one where the earth is not nurturing as much as it is destructive and violent. This world is one full of earthquakes and volcanoes, magic that is correlated with seismic events, and terrifying creatures that are formed of stone. The world is unlike anything else I have ever read, and is built on a system of isolated fortresses and small villages instead of the usual kingdoms, enchanted forests, and bustling sea ports.

I loved that the story focused on women of different ages, because so much fantasy is told from the POV of a child growing into a young man or a warrior in his/her prime. The observations and reflections that come with age and experience are so different from the impulses that govern a child's interactions with her surroundings. It also tells the story of a powerful but incredibly broken and jaded middle-aged man. These are the people we don't usually get to hear stories about, and I really loved how their unique characteristics flavored the way the story was told.

This book is devastating in terms of its depiction of pain and suffering. There is just so much physical and emotional pain in this book. There are tormented characters trying to dissociate themselves from their past actions and a society that tries to hide the cruelty and brutality it perpetuates in the name of keeping people safe. I was so emotionally invested in this book and all the pain was really hard to stomach at times, but somehow this didn't feel like a dark book as much as a heavy one. I can't really articulate the difference very well other than to say dark is what I associate with things like Brent Weeks' Night Angel books (brutal, hopeless, bleak) and heavy is more painful but also more thoughtful, with a little beauty and hope at the end of the tunnel.

I don't want to spoil things, but as you progress through this book, many pieces begin to click into place and things that you knew before suddenly become even more chilling. It's not so much twists as pieces falling into place, and I really like that kind of "aha" moment.

I highly recommend this book and I am looking forward to continuing this series!

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Sunday, October 30, 2016

Review: All the Light We Cannot See

18143977Title: All the Light We Cannot See
Author: Anthony Doerr
Genre: Historical fiction

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Goodreads Summary:
From the highly acclaimed, multiple award-winning Anthony Doerr, the beautiful, stunningly ambitious instant New York Times bestseller about a blind French girl and a German boy whose paths collide in occupied France as both try to survive the devastation of World War II.
Marie-Laure lives with her father in Paris near the Museum of Natural History, where he works as the master of its thousands of locks. When she is six, Marie-Laure goes blind and her father builds a perfect miniature of their neighborhood so she can memorize it by touch and navigate her way home. When she is twelve, the Nazis occupy Paris and father and daughter flee to the walled citadel of Saint-Malo, where Marie-Laure’s reclusive great-uncle lives in a tall house by the sea. With them they carry what might be the museum’s most valuable and dangerous jewel.
In a mining town in Germany, the orphan Werner grows up with his younger sister, enchanted by a crude radio they find. Werner becomes an expert at building and fixing these crucial new instruments, a talent that wins him a place at a brutal academy for Hitler Youth, then a special assignment to track the resistance. More and more aware of the human cost of his intelligence, Werner travels through the heart of the war and, finally, into Saint-Malo, where his story and Marie-Laure’s converge.
I haven't had the greatest track record with Pulitzer-prize winning books. I usually find them either really dull and boring or really pretentious and over-my-head. I had sort of resigned myself to not picking up any more Pulitzer books because I figured I wasn't going to enjoy them, but my uncle convinced me that this one was worth reading. I'm really glad he did, because I loved this book! I really enjoy historical fiction, especially stories about the world wars because they always seem to showcase the resilience and strength and beauty of the human spirit in terrible circumstances. This book was no exception.

All the Light We Cannot See is a gorgeously written book. The words are simple, but every single word is selected and arranged with so much care. This is one of those books where you know every sentence, every word was included for a purpose. There were so many references to light and blindness, seeing and darkness, and they all wove this beautiful story together with so many things to think about.

This book is terribly sad. I cried at least three times, and it was because I cared about the characters so much that I was really upset when terrible things happened to them. It wasn't even the main characters, I cried for secondary and peripheral characters too. It was interesting to see the conflict of WWII from two different sides, from both Marie-Laure's and Werner's points of view. They don't even meet until near the end of the book but their actions and lives to intersect and influence one another in unexpected ways. That sort of unpredictable yet undeniable connection between two people is one of the most beautiful parts of this book.

I liked how this book was focused on the characters and their childhood as much as it was focused on the grand scale of the war. I always like small-scale, personal stories that illustrate the effects of something huge and vast; sometimes it's just so hard to comprehend the complexities of something so monstrous and big as a world war, but when you see its effects on one little girl you are moved to tears.
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